Sound Opinions dissects Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison & Opinions on Black Kids

Jim and Greg honor country music maverick Johnny Cash with a Classic Album Dissection of his legendary live recording At Folsom Prison, now 40 years old.

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Music News

First up in the news is the report that both the House and Senate have reauthorized the Higher Education Act with new provisions that essentially make colleges akin to cops. The bill requires universities to implement tougher traffic filtering technologies in order to deter p2p filesharing. Jim and Greg think any attempts to deter filesharing will be as effective as attempts to curb cheating, binge-drinking and plagiarizing.

Jim and Greg recently spoke with Big Champagne's Eric Garland about artists benefiting from filesharing and album-leaking. Labels have now caught on, but they don't want you to know it. When a track from the forthcoming Buckcherry album was leaked on the internet, the band and its label were quick to complain. But, according to a Wall Street Journal article, they were the source of the leak. It's an old PR stunt for the hip hop world, but now mainstream, albeit“boneheaded”acts like Buckcherry have caught on. Get ready for more faux file-leaking sob stories.

In other music news, music retailing giant iTunes may be getting some competition soon. Amazon launched a digital music service less than a year ago and has yet to make a dent in that market. Now the website has teamed up with MySpace to offer music fans a way to sample and then purchase individual songs and albums. The tracks will be DRM-free, and users won't have to launch a separate application to purchase music. Jim is quickly running to add the Amazon CEO as his MySpace friend.

There's never enough Abba on Sound Opinions, so we were excited when the Swedish pop quartet appeared in the headlines. The band's greatest hits album Gold recently went to #1 in the U.K., breaking the record for the oldest band to ever hit the top of the charts. The reason for the resurgence is the release of the movie Mamma Mia, but hopefully the legacy of the band will not be tarnished by the film.

Frequent chart-topper Chris Brown is also making news this week. His hit single "Forever" has made it to the Top 10 , but little did fans know it was written as a Wrigley gum jingle. For a long time artists have lent their music to advertising companies, but as far as Jim and Greg can tell, this is the first time a song was developed initially as an ad campaign. Is it just a chicken/egg argument? Or does the commercial intention matter to a song's integrity? Let us know what you think.

The final discussion in the news is about the proliferation of '90s nostalgia in the music industry these days. Alternative-era artists like Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair and Sonic Youth are all drawing from their former glory days and cashing in. Jim believes such nostalgia is anathema to the alternative philosophy, and doesn't think touring behind one singular album is much better than a greatest hits concert. Greg is surprised that Jim is surprised, citing the Sex Pistols' 1996 tour as the day he gave up on any notion of rock-era integrity.

classic album dissection
At Folsom Prison (Live)Live at Folsom Prison available on iTunes

Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison

Live at Folsom Prison has been regarded as one of the greatest live recordings in rock and roll history and marks a point of redemption in Johnny Cash's long career. As Greg explains, he was considered by many to be a has-been. But, in 1968 Columbia producer Bob Johnston took Cash up on his long-time idea of recording at a prison. The singer had previously played shows in prisons, but had not recorded. It's a fitting location for the“man in black,”since he had flirted with trouble and had spent some time in jail. He also went through a divorce, developed a drug problem, and seemed to be all but finished in the music industry. But one of Folsom's guest vocalists, June Carter-Cash, played a huge role in helping Johnny Cash get his life back on track. Cash won the Album of the Year at the 2nd annual Country Music Awards for Folsom Prison, and it helped make him a huge star again.

The location of the recording was a key factor to the album's success. Folsom Prison was not a friendly place. As Jim describes, it was an ugly, smelly, scary“dungeon”where law-abiding citizens would not feel very comfortable. But Cash wanted to record an album there because he showed empathy toward the prisoners, and the performer's cool demeanor brought out an energy and excitement in the audience that hadn‘t been heard in live recordings before. In addition to June Carter, Cash’s band at Folsom consisted of the Tennessee Three, Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers.

Jim and Greg pick out the key songs on At Folsom Prison to wrap up the dissection. Greg goes with "25 Minutes to Go". It was written by Shel Silverstein from the perspective of a convict on Death Row who is counting down the minutes of his life. You can hear the crowd's enthusiastic response throughout the song.

Jim discusses "Greystone Chapel", the last song on the album. It was written by Glen Sherley, a former inmate at Folsom. The Reverend Gresset introduced Cash to the song the night prior to the performance, and it moved Cash so much so that he decided to make it his closing song.

Throughout Johnny Cash's entire career, he walked a line between sinfulness and redeeming grace. At Folsom Prison highlights Cash's artistic intentions, not to preach at the prisoners of Folsom, but to relate to their situations. He was singing as one of them, a sinner, who would rather hang out with prisoners than "some of the 'saints‘ he’d met."

Forty years later the album is still inspiring artists such as Reverend Horton Heat, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and Uncle Tupelo.

reviewOne Day As a Lion - EPOne Day as a Lion available on iTunes

Zack de la Rocha One Day as a Lion

Ever since Zack de la Rocha quit Rage Against the Machine he has been talking about his upcoming solo album. It's been eight years, but an EP has finally been delivered called One Day as a Lion. De la Rocha brought Mars Volta drummer John Theodore onto the record for percussion, and de la Rocha plays keyboard under his vocals. The lyrics are as politically charged as ever, but Jim is sick of the bombastic silliness of de la Rocha's“revolutionary nonsense rhetoric”and says that the lyrics warrant a Trash It rating. But he gives the music a Try It for the drums alone. Greg gives the album a Try It, saying that it's nothing that hasn't been done before. He likes the sound of the album, but thinks that a similar artist like Saul Williams does the style much better.

reviewPartie TraumaticPartie Traumatic available on iTunes

Black Kids Partie Traumatic

Black Kids released four songs last year on their MySpace page, became one of the most hyped bands at last year's CMJ music conference and garnered huge praise from many critics. Their first full-length album is called Partie Traumatic. Jim hates the“sneering hipness”and“desperate sexuality”the album emits. Greg thinks Black Kids isn‘t going to last much longer, acknowledging the backlash that the album has already incurred. He doesn’t understand why the band's singer, Reggie Youngblood, "a black kid from Florida," tries to sound like The Cure's Robert Smith. They both find the album insincere and annoying, and it gets two Trash Its.


Featured Songs

  1. Kanye West, School Spirit, College Dropout, Roc-A-Fella, 2004
  2. Buckcherry, Too Drunk, Black Butterfly, Eleven Seven, 2008
  3. AC/DC, It's a Long Way to the Top" (If You Wanna Rock and Roll), T.N.T., Albert Productions, 1975
  4. Abba, Mamma Mia, Gold, Polydor, 1993
  5. Chris Brown, Forever, Exclusive, CBE, 2008
  6. Smashing Pumpkins, I Am One, Gish, Caroline, 1991
  7. Nirvana, Heart Shaped Box, In Utero, DGC, 1993
  8. Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the U.K, Filthy Lucre Live, Virgin, 1996
  9. Liz Phair, Help Me Mary (Live), Exile in Guyville, Matador, 1993
  10. Sonic Youth, 'Cross the Breeze (Live), Daydream Nation, Enigma, 1988
  11. The Lemonheads, Mrs. Robinson, It's a Shame About Ray, Atlantic, 1992
  12. Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues, At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968
  13. Johnny Cash, Busted, At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968
  14. Johnny Cash, Joe Bean, At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968
  15. Johnny Cash, Dark as the Dungeon, At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968
  16. Johnny Cash, 25 Minutes to Go, At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968
  17. Johnny Cash, Greystone Chapel, At Folsom Prison, Columbia, 1968
  18. Uncle Tupelo,“Cocaine Blues,”Live Recording, 1989
  19. One Day as a Lion, Wild International, One Day as a Lion, Anti-, 2008
  20. One Day as a Lion, If You Fear Dying, One Day as a Lion, Anti-, 2008
  21. Black Kids, Listen to your Body Tonight, Partie Traumatic, Almost Gold, 2008
  22. Black Kids, I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You, Partie Traumatic, Almost Gold, 2008
  23. Air France, No Way Down, No Way Down EP, Sincerely Yours, 2008
  24. The Nerves, Hanging On The Telephone, Nerves EP, Nerves, 1976
  25. The Nerves, When You Find Out, Nerves EP, Nerves, 1976
  26. The Feelies, Crazy Rhythms, Crazy Rhythms, Stiff, 1980
  27. Radiohead, The National Anthem (Live at Lollapalooza), Kid A, Parlophone, 2000

Footnotes College funding bill passed with anti-P2P provisions intact Text of the Higher Education Act Big Champagne Buckcherry WSJ article,“Web Piracy: The Enemy Within?” Amazon music downloads A deal with MySpace could move Amazon up the digital music charts ABBA ABBA's Gold tops UK chart again Mamma Mia movie homepage Chris Brown's hit song was written for an ad Jim on alternative-era nostalgia Smashing Pumpkins plan 20th anniversary shows Liz Phair reissuing ‘Exile in Guyville’, performing it in three cities Johnny Cash Folsom Prison on EW's“25 Country Albums You Need to Hear (Even If You Hate Country Music)” Statler Brothers Shel Silverstein Walk the Line (film) Reverend Horton Heat Uncle Tupelo Zack de la Rocha Rage Against the Machine Black Kids